Sustainability Coordinator Sparks Debate at CAC

Posted on 11 March 2010

Mirroring a similar debate at Southampton Town Hall – one that will likely be resolved by this week’s election – last week Sag Harbor Citizen Advisory Committee members Eric Cohen and Bill Collins entered a heated discussion about whether the town should utilize available grant monies and create a sustainability coordinator position.

On February 23, the Southampton Town Board tabled a resolution creating the position of sustainability coordinator, a position envisioned as one that would oversee conservation and energy issues within the town. The position, which would have been funded through a $206,600 grant from the United States Department of Energy, stalled after board members Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone expressed concern the job would eventually become a civil service position funded by taxpayer dollars. However, according to the resolution, the sustainability coordinator would be a non-union position in the town.

According to Cohen, who broached the subject hoping to garner the support of the CAC in asking the town move forward with the hire, despite the support of Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and councilwoman Nancy Grabowski, without Malone or Nuzzi ready to approve the position, and without a fifth councilperson, the board was at a stalemate. A new vote is expected later this month, on March 23.

“It’s budget neutral,” explained Cohen, who said he was quite upset the town had not moved forward last month. “If we don’t take this grant someone else will take the grant.”

“This is why we are in such financial problems,” countered Collins, arguing the grant is funded by federal taxes.

“What I am saying is the money has already been spent,” replied Cohen. “It is a question of whether it comes here or goes elsewhere.”

Cohen argued that in addition to being funded by grant monies this year, the coordinator is responsible for securing grants to continue the position in coming years. There is also a financial benefit to having the coordinator, he said, as they will be charged with promoting and helping to find funding for energy saving projects within the town and for residents, as well as implementing sustainability programs that require a coordinator in order for the town to be eligible for grant monies.

“Because in theory you are opposed to spending taxpayer money, we can’t have the benefit,” asked Cohen. “Let’s let another town have it?”

Collins said often once a town position or department is created, no matter what, that department is never disbanded or the position eliminated.

“But if the person hired is doing something beneficial for the town and the individual saves the town money, wouldn’t you say that is a good hire,” countered Cohen.

Collins said he would like to see an in-house hire, rather than a new town employee, but Cohen said the town has looked in-house and failed to find someone interested or qualified for the job.

“I like to see government conservative in its spending, but I have never been a believer that we don’t have to pay for what we want,” said Cohen.

“And believe me, if this guy doesn’t deliver the goods, he won’t slip under the radar,” agreed CAC chairman John Linder.

Failing to reach consensus, Cohen said he would rather the CAC not weigh in on the issue as a body, although members later said they would write personal letters of support for the position.

In other CAC news, the head of Southampton Town Code Enforcement Donald Kauth approached the committee in what he said was a renewed effort by his department to reach out to civic associations in the town. After walking the committee through the code enforcement department’s role in the town, Kauth said it was his hope organizations and individuals alike continue to inform the department about any concerns they may have. The code enforcement department can be reached by calling 702-2927.

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